Harris targeted African American history standards in Florida schools during her speech, claiming the curriculum taught that enslaved people benefited from slavery.
“How is it that anyone could suggest that in the midst of these atrocities that there was any benefit to being subjected to this level of dehumanization?” Harris asked during her speech.
Critics have attacked the standards on that basis, and others have said it doesn’t go far enough in condemning historical figures who advocated for slavery.
FLDOE adopted new teaching standards for African American history that teach “slaves developed skills which, in some instances, could be applied for their personal benefit.” Those standards refer to trade skills that enslaved people could put to use in the private market upon being freed.
The department issued a response to the criticisms on Wednesday, saying that Harris had purposefully misrepresented what the curriculum taught.
In a letter to Florida school districts, Florida Education Commissioner Manny Diaz said that standards were supported by “historical accounts of African Americans, including slaves and their immediate descendants.”
The federal government won’t dictate Florida’s education standards.
“The adoption of a stand-alone strand of African American History standards is a first for Florida,” Diaz wrote. “It builds off our continued efforts since 2019 to teach our students unbiased African American history. This effort has included the adoption of standards to teach about the Ocoee Massacre, the brutal injustices of slavery, and a robust focus on the civil rights movement.”
The standards require that Florida schools teach about important historical Black figures like inventor Lonnie Johnson and George Washington Carver. They also mandate that history classes discuss “the contributions of Africans to society, science, poetry, politics, oratory, literature, music, dance, Christianity and exploration in the United States from 1776-1865.”
The African American History workgroup that put together the curriculum included members like Dr. William Allen, a former member of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights.
In an interview with conservative pundit Megyn Kelly, Allen derided the accusations against the workgroup’s curriculum.
“It is categorically false to say that we adopted, embraced the positive, good school of slavery,” Allen said. “Nothing could be further from the truth.”